There have been two recent and major developments in the war on cigars, one of them quite good and the other mixed. Let’s begin with the good. On February 3, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta handed a big victory to the handmade cigar industry by striking down the FDA’s plan to slap large warning labels on cigar packaging. This was a direct rebuke of the FDA, which wanted warning labels that would have taken up 30 percent of cigar boxes, obscuring the beautiful art we have come to admire and rendering cigar packaging worthless.
“In support of both arguments, commenters to the Proposed Rule presented evidence supporting that premium cigars have different usage patterns than other cigar and tobacco products,” wrote Judge Mehta in his ruling. “They are almost never used by youth, and they are instead used by older, higher income, and better educated consumers.”
This is a ruling we applaud, one that draws important distinction between handmade, premium cigars crafted entirely from tobacco and those that are cheap, mass-market products, spit out of machines like cigarettes. Judge Mehta’s action is much needed good news for the cigar industry. The FDA may appeal, but for now, his decision means the warning labels won’t be appearing anytime soon, and hopefully not at all.
The second development is the increase to the minimum age for buying a cigar in the United States. On December 20, Congress raised the age from 18 to 21, legislation that was part of the omnibus spending bill. It went into effect immediately after President Donald Trump signed it. The reach of this action was limited—19 states already required consumers to be 21 to purchase tobacco—and its impact on high-end cigar sales will be quite low, as handmade cigars are consumed by an older audience. At the high end of estimates, one cigar retailer, who has stores in a college town, calculated he might lose five percent of his business due to the change.
But there’s a sad side effect to this move: no exemption exists for members of the military. There are more than 1.3 million people serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, and many of them are teenagers. The Marines are the youngest of the four military services, and 26 percent of active-duty Marines are younger than 21. The implied message that someone who is old enough to fight for one’s country is too young to purchase a cigar is an outrage.
Sen. Ted Cruz spoke out against this new law, and he did it while smoking a cigar in a video he posted on Twitter. “So now, our soldiers at age 18, you can be drafted to go into war, you can be sent to the front lines, you can face machine gun fire,” he says, pausing to take several puffs of the big cigar he is holding, “but God help you if you want to have a smoke.”
No, the change in the law to 21 won’t have a major impact on cigar companies or cigar retailers. But we say if you’re old enough to pick up a rifle in the name of defending the United States, you’re old enough to buy a good cigar. And you certainly deserve one.